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Hospital Speech Pathologist is now full time
RUMFORD -- Cindy Dawson, who has been a part time speech pathologist at Rumford Hospital for 10 years, now serves patients five days a week both in the Therapy Department at the hospital and at Rumford Community Home. She provides speech and language evaluations for and treats people of all ages. Hope Calderwood, Therapy Services Manager, credits Dawson with developing the speech therapy program at Rumford as well as going to extremes to provide service to people from the River Valley.
In the early days of the program Dawson often worked until 8pm to serve all the patients needing evaluations and therapy. The need for the service grew from a few hours each week to a few days and finally to a full 40-hour week. Her specialty is patients who have swallowing difficulties and with a new teleneurology program linking Rumford Hospital’s Emergency Department with Massachusett General Hospital’s neurologists, a swallow screening program for patients in the ED will become even more important.
In the past Dawson’s caseload was primarily adults with a variety of diagnoses including head or neck cancer, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pneumonia and aspiration of food. She now works with many preschoolers, some who don’t speak or have unintelligible speech, helping them to learn to process language before they start public school.
Teenagers, too, are her patients. They may have facial nerve damage from an accident and require neuromuscular stimulation that retrains their muscles. Young people with head injuries resulting in memory and/or cognitive deficits also need speech therapy as their problems are usually language-based. Dawson has worked with teens with food aversions, desensitizing them so that they are willing to tolerate a wider range of textures and tastes, which improves their ability to eat a balanced and healthy diet.
Dawson works with people who have had Lyme disease, which can affect a person’s cognitive ability. She often leads them in exercises to stimulate the brain such as memorizing information. The patient might listen to the therapist read and then recall what was read.
She works with outpatients and inpatients at the hospital and is particularly valuable to the Swing Bed program. These Swing Bed patients remain at the hospital or are transferred here after surgery for a variety of therapies, and speech therapy is often part of their care.
A large segment of Dawson’s caseload is diagnosing and treating swallowing problems. An important part of such diagnoses is a video swallowing study performed in Rumford Hospital’s Radiology Department, where a special chair positions patients to sit upright during the study. While being x-rayed, the patient is asked to swallow a variety of barium-covered food. The barium allows the x-ray to capture the food as it makes its way down the throat, revealing what is causing patients’ lack of swallowing capability.
Often people who have Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), chronic pulmonary disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s or who have had strokes loose their ability to swallow. They aspirate, or draw food and other substances into their lungs, rather than into their stomachs. “We all have a natural coughing reflex when something ‘goes down the wrong way,’” explains Dawson. “These people have lost that reflex.” Once these patients are video x-rayed, their physician and speech therapist can determine a course of treatment to correct the problem.
Dawson provides neuromuscular electrical stimulation therapy for swallowing difficulties and other throat problems. A few years ago Rumford Hospital made an investment in expanding treatment for people with swallowing disorders with the purchase of the chair for swallowing studies and a neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) device, as well as the cost of Dawson’s specialized training in NMES use. The NMES electrically stimulates throat muscles with low levels of current. The NMES device is small and very portable, too, so it can easily be transported to Rumford Community Home to work with residents there.
Other treatments may involve medication or esophageal (throat) widening. Throat exercises may be prescribed along with these other treatments or they may be the first choice of treatment. At Rumford Hospital and Rumford Community Home, Dawson leads patients through exercises that mimic swallowing, gargling, voice exercises, and even a yawn exercise.
Those patients with other than swallowing diagnoses may need Dawson’s evaluation and treatment for speech and language or with the use of assistive communication devices, such as communication boards. People who have experienced laryngectomies need help obtaining and adjusting to electric larynxes.
“We are getting more referrals every day from pulmonologists and neurologists,” notes Dawson. “Now there is help for their patients close to home and even right in their long term care home.”
Dawson lives in Roxbury with her husband and golden retriever. The couple has two grown children. Dawson and her husband have spent much of their spare time for the six years refurbishing his family’s camp to make it a seasonal home. She also enjoys gardening.